Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh,
Alhamdulillah, by the grace of Allah, Cal Poly Pomona’s Muslim Student Association is honored to have had Shaykh Ahmad AlKurdy as our Chaplain for the 2020-2021 academic school year. Being able to interact, learn, and seek counsel from Shaykh Ahmad throughout the year has been a very pleasant experience for all of our members. Additionally, being able to work alongside him and seek guidance was highly valued by our MSA Board. May Allah bless Shaykh Ahmad and the Institute of Knowledge for supplying the students of CPP with such a priceless and much needed resource.
Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, many of our members found themselves attempting to navigate through an unfamiliar, virtual environment. Having the opportunity to attend weekly study circles helped combat the feeling of isolation and allowed our members to connect with one another and Shaykh Ahmad in fruitful conversations about Islamic topics. Our weekly study circle would begin with the opportunity for students to “check in” and give updates on things going on in their lives. This personal touch allowed for our members to form strong connections with each other, as well as made the study circle environment a safe space for students to share openly. In fact, often our topics of discussion for the session would spin off of what was on the minds of our attendees, opening the floor for current and relevant conversations to be held. Additionally, to allow for more comfort, we developed an anonymous virtual form in which members could submit questions or topics they would like to discuss without having to publicly ask them. This proved to be a highly beneficial resource since we were able to incorporate the input of ALL of our attendees, as well as touch upon certain topics often dismissed because of their “taboo” nature. The format and execution of our weekly study circle very much catered to the casual nature of Cal Poly Pomona’s MSA and was consistently one of the highlights of our members’ week.
The content discussed within our study circles was always relevant to what was happening around us. Whether it was related to current events, the Islamic calendar, or even things students were dealing with in school, our conversations always allowed for us to take a step back from our constant studying and reconnect with our deen and how it touches upon every aspect of our lives.
Due to popular demand by our members, following the 2019-2020 academic school year, we continued our study circle sessions into the Summer of 2020. With Coronavirus cases on the rise, pandemic lockdowns being implemented, and the death of George Floyd, this summer took a very large mental toll on our members. There were many emotions in the air and the inability to meet and see people in person further exacerbated those feelings. Alhumdulilah, we were blessed to have had the opportunity to have our study circle peers and Shaykh Ahmad to speak with and find clarity and solace in a time where racial tensions and protests were at a high, and human interaction at a low. Talking through all that was happening allowed our members to better process the events around us and helped establish the study circle as a safe space for future discussions. We continued our study circles throughout most of summer, ending a few weeks before the new semester began.
Subhan’Allah, the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year coincided with Muharram, one of Allah’s sacred months. After beginning our introductory study circle with greetings, we discussed the importance of knowing the months of the Islamic Calendar and the special dates within them. In the case of Muharram, we discussed the day of Ashura, the historical events which occurred on it, and the tradition of fasting on that day. Shaykh Ahmad always did a great job of providing us with infographics and easily digestible articles pertaining to our weekly discussions, allowing students to further participate in the conversation and ask more questions.
Alongside learning more about the Islamic Calendar and the important events within it, Shaykh Ahmad would routinely have us reevaluate the Western holidays and practices many people would often partake in with no hesitation. An example of this would be a discussion we had on the topic of celebrating birthdays. Rather than just simply giving us a yes or no answer, Shaykh Ahmad provided us with resources to analyze the original purpose, history, and customs that revolved around birthdays. Once we understood the origins of the celebration, it was more clear to our members why birthdays were not from the Islamic tradition. This approach not only allowed our members to gain valuable knowledge, but also taught us how to question and research the meaning behind many of the practices that are normally around us. Additionally, reading resources alongside Shaykh Ahmad taught us the importance of learning alongside a trained teacher rather than attempting to self-interpret the information we find. As October drew near, we repeated a similar learning process when analyzing the holiday of Halloween.
In the months of October and November, with the 2020 election coming up, our members requested to engage in a discussion regarding voting. Shaykh Ahmad provided us with a wide range of resources, from articles on “American Muslim Progressivism” to videos and excerpts of Malcolm X and his thoughts on American Democracy. We would spend our study circle sessions reading through the resources together and discussing our thoughts on what was being said. Additionally, Shaykh Ahmad encouraged us to broaden our perspectives on voting by reading articles on stances that different religious groups and conscious abstainers held in regards to politics and voting. We then went on to discuss the Islamic perspective on the matters. At the end of the discussion, Shaykh Ahmad did a very good job of encouraging everyone to further think and discuss how they felt about the conversation.
Throughout the school year, CPP MSA held a lecture series called “Taboo Talks” in which we would invite speakers to come hold a lecture and Q&A session on topics often dismissed or avoided within Islamic spaces due to their “taboo” or uncomfortable nature. Some of the topics covered were pornography, mental health, how to get married, racism in the muslim community, and islam and feminism. These lectures were very popular and would often end up going overtime. Due to this, many of the questions submitted to the speakers would go unanswered. As a means of bridging this gap in understanding, Shaykh Ahmad would always allow us to revive the conversation in the following study circles. Since our study circles were a more intimate and safe space, our members were able to ask more specific questions and fully understand the material that had been covered. Furthermore, Shaykh Ahmad would also provide us with additional resources we could read on our own to further our knowledge.
Due to popular demand, we requested to continue our study circle gatherings throughout winter break. Alhumdulilah, both IOK and Shaykh Ahmad were very kind and granted us the option to do so. During winter break, our discussions consisted of a wide variety of topics, from addressing personal questions asked in our questionnaire to discussing the lives of the Prophets. Since it was Christmas time, we spent a few sessions discussing the life of the Prophet Jesus in Islam. We learned about his life as a messenger, the trials and tribulations he faced, the significance of his mother Mary, and how Christianity portrays Jesus in the Bible as compared to his portrayal in the Quran. Alongside the Prophet Jesus, we also touched upon who the five most important Prophets were and why their lives were particularly significant. Similarly, we also spoke about the four perfect women in Islam. We then began a group reading on the Seerah of the Prophet Muhammad.
Upon returning to school at the end of January to begin our Spring Semester, Shaykh Ahmad took a step away from Chaplaincy due to health reasons. This short break served as a gap for students to begin adjusting to their new schedules before resuming our weekly study circles. Additionally, thanks to IOK’s establishment of Chaplaincy programs at multiple campuses, UCI MSU was kind enough to invite our members to join them in their study circles with Shaykh Farhan Zubairi. Shaykh Ahmad returned to his regular Chaplaincy services after a two-week break.
During the Spring Semester, we continued our system of having discussions on relevant questions and topics brought up by our members. We discussed topics such as masculinity, slavery, divine predestination/decree (Qadr), and other topics which often would cross our members’ minds. Each time we had a discussion, Shaykh Ahmad always gave resources on the topic to further our understanding. This system of “question and answer” was very popular among our members.
Once Ramadan drew near, our focuses shifted and we began to have discussions on how to properly prepare for the sacred month. We covered the basics such as why we fast and how fasting affects us mentally, physically, and spiritually, but we also made the discussion very specific to the conditions we were living in. Given this would be our second Ramadan while still under lockdown due to the pandemic, Shaykh Ahmad made sure to help our members navigate through an “at-home” Ramadan while also balancing the large workload we were receiving since the academic year was ending. We talked about practical ways to take advantage of the acts of worship and their rewards during this month, all while ensuring we do the best we can in our studies. As the last 10 nights approached, we dedicated a study circle session towards discussing Laylatul Qadr, what potential days it could fall on, and the reward of the night. These weekly discussions pertaining to Ramadan helped our members stick towards accomplishing their Ramadan goals and receive moral support and assistance from their peers.
After Ramadan had ended, we only had one study circle session left until finals week. Since everyone was extremely busy and stress levels were high, rather than having any deep conversations on Islamic topics, Shaykh Ahmad recommended that we end off the year with a relaxed Quran recitation and discussion. We spent our last study circle session peacefully listening to Shaykh Ahmad recite a few surahs. Once he would finish a surah, members would share any verses that specifically stood out to them and we would briefly talk about it. This was a wonderful way to end off a year of spending time with our peers and Shaykh Ahmad in hopes of furthering our Islamic knowledge. Although the year was over, Shaykh Ahmad reassured us that if any of us ever had any questions or topics they would like to know more about, we could always attend his office hours through IOK’s community chaplaincy program.
Seemingly, our members could not get enough of our usual study circle sessions and once again placed a request with IOK to have a Summer 2021 Study Circle. Alhumdulilah, both IOK and Shaykh Ahmad accommodate our request and the study circle sessions have continued throughout the summer.
Since the CPP MSA Study Circle is primarily meant for an audience of current students, many of our alumni did not feel comfortable joining the sessions post graduation. However, they did miss having a sense of Islamic community and an outlet to gain more knowledge, therefore, through the efforts of a few recent CPP alumni and collaboration with IOK CHESS, a new program, the Alumni Study Circle with Shaykh Ahmad AlKurdy, was created in the Summer of 2021. As a pilot program, it began with only catering to past CPP alumni, but throughout the summer, it expanded and opened up to alumni from other campuses, such as UCR, CSUSB, and CSULB. This study circle will insha’Allah continue throughout the year and has already garnered the support of over 20 alumni.
Another important thing to note is that alongside having the option to attend weekly study circles, the chaplaincy program also designated a few hours of each week for CPP students to attend office hours with Shaykh Ahmad. By simply booking an office hours slot through IOK’s telehealth software, our members were able to meet one-on-one with Shaykh Ahmad and ask any personal questions or topics they were seeking guidance on. A few of our sisters would also bookly weekly office hour appointments and use the session as a “Sisters Study Circle”. The privacy and discretion of the office hours format allowed students to seek necessary counsel on things that troubled them or important questions they wished to have answered from a reliable and trustworthy chaplain. Alhumdulilah, this additional feature of the Chaplaincy Program was of great benefit to our members.
We would like to thank Shaykh Ahmad and the Institute of Knowledge once again for providing the students of Cal Poly Pomona with the amazing resource that Chaplaincy has proven to be. May Allah reward the effort of everyone who has helped and continues to help the Chaplaincy Program function and provide necessary support to Muslim youth across the SoCal universities. May Allah also preserve the Chaplaincy Program and allow it to grow and benefit more people in the coming years. Chaplaincy is one the biggest blessings our MSA has been able to receive and our members are greatly appreciative of all the time, effort, and passion that is put in to preserve it!
Jazāk Allāhu Khayran.